Epstein focuses on child safety


The H.F. Epstein Hebrew Academy recently became the first school outside of California to become certified under the “Child Safety Institute,” a program run by a Los Angeles-based organization.

The Aleinu Family Resource Center, run by the Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, took the “Child Safety Institute” program nationwide this year, after a pilot program brought it to 14 schools in the Greater Los Angeles area.

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Earlier this month, two outreach educators from Los Angeles focused on child safety and school safety and taught separate seminars to Epstein teachers and staff, parents, and the students in kindergarten through eighth grade at the school.

One of the visiting educators, Nettie Lerner, the director of the Child Safety Institute, said the program aims to give educators, parents and children the tools to combat abuse, molestation and abduction.

Bonnie Drazen, activities coordinator at Epstein, said Head of School Rabbi Shmuel Kay initiated the program, requesting that Aleinu visit the school for the certification process. Drazen said all teachers and staff — about 35 total attended seminars that taught them to recognize signs of possible abuse, to make the school safer, ways to talk to students about abuse, and steps to follow if abuse is suspected.

That night, close to 100 parents attended the parent workshop, where the Aleinu educators informed parents of what their children would be learning, and ways to recognize and handle issues of abuse. The next day, the visiting educators gave seminars to students.

“Students need to have the skills so they can say, ‘No, I don’t want you to do that,’ or ‘No, I cant go with you without talking to my parents,’ ” Lerner said

“We want the children to know very clearly what the expectations are, and what is and what is not acceptable and feel very comfortable saying no to an adult. “

Lerner said that while the program has gone nationwide, Epstein is the first school outside of California that has gone through the full program and become certified.

She said Rabbi Kay was head of school at a day school in Seattle which took part in an early pilot program several years ago. “He knew about us through his time on the West coast, ” she said. “So once he heard the program was up and running, he invited us to come to St. Louis. He was very enthusiastic about having the program certify his school, ” Lerner said.

“Safety is of paramount importance to us at Epstein, ” Kay said. “This program got everyone involved — teachers, parents, students — and thinking about ways to ensure our students safety. “

Lerner said that while a large part of the program is focused on prevention of abuse, another important component, is being able to recognize when abuse has occurred, and the appropriate steps to remove a child from an abusive situation.

“We provide the tools and skills that educators and parents will need to know in order to appropriately respond if a child is abused, ” Lerner said.

The Aleinu program specifically gears its materials to a Jewish day school audience. Its brochures, videos and learning materials are intended to connect with children, who might then see themselves in those situations, Lerner said. For example, a video shown to many of the children shows a child wearing a kippah, walking down the street, “on the way to shul, ” says the narrator.

A car pulls up, and the driver says he is a member of the same congregation, and offers the child a ride, assuring the youngster that his parents said it would be okay. The child says no, and insists he must ask his parents first.

Lerner said the best way to teach children is to show an environment with which they are familiar. “when people feel comfortable with the material because what they see is what they are familiar with, then they are going to be able to accept and internalize the material at a much better rate, ” she said. “If they see something that’s not familiar, then they cant identify with it, ” she said. Helping students see themselves in those types of situations allows them to prepare questions they might ask, or appropriate responses, Lerner said.